I love a good cook-out – after all, al fresco meals are the quintessence of Mediterranean summer dining.
Nonetheless, I get a little nervous about the health implications of some of the foods traditionally eaten at summer picnics and barbecues. So at the risk of sounding like a party-pooper, I want to show you here how you can avoid some of the pitfalls of barbecuing and still have fun-filled summer feasts with friends and family.
First, the bad news.
Many barbecue staples – processed hot dogs and sausages, hamburger patties made from industrially reared beef, factory-made white-flour buns, sugary ketchup, mayonnaise made from low-quality seed oils, deep-fried potato chips and artificially flavored and colored desserts – aren’t exactly nutrient-dense super-foods.
Moreover, grilling meat over charcoal, wood or gas fires can lead to the formation of highly toxic compounds associated with increased cancer risk.
These include polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), which are formed when fat drips into the coals, creating flare-ups and smoke that carries the PAHs back on the meat where they settle. Several of these are mutagenic – i.e. they can change the DNA in our cells, which in turn can give rise to cancerous changes. Fatty meats, where the fat melts and drips into the heat source, are particularly prone to producing PAHs.
Heterocyclic amines (HCAs) are another unhealthy compound that’s produced when muscle meats and fish are cooked at high temperatures (above 300°F/150°C) – and not just on the BBQ, but also in frying pans. HCAs are thought to increase the risk of colorectal, stomach, lung, pancreatic, breast and prostate cancers.
Another potential health risk of summer dining lurks in mayonnaise-smothered pasta or potato salads as these sit in the sun; they can breed bacteria which can really take the fun out of summer parties.
But now for the good news: Many of the risks posed by summer cookouts can be reduced! Here’s how:
Here’s wishing you a summer filled with delicious, healthy cookouts! (The recipes for Patriotic popsicles, Berry tiramisu, marinated lamb chops and two bean-and-vegetable salsds can be found in the June issue of Modern Mediterranean Meal Plans.)
(c) Conner Middelmann-Whitney. Conner is a nutrition coach and cookbook writer specializing in the Mediterranean diet. She is the author of Zest for Life: The Mediterranean Anti-Cancer Diet . She offers Mediterranean diet coaching (online and in-person) and publishes Modern Mediterranean Meal Plans, a recipe and meal-planning service for busy people wishing to "Mediterraneanize" their diets. For more information about her work, please visit her website, www.modernmediterranean.com.